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What do you mean the EPA timed out?
September 26, 2005 6:24 AM   Subscribe

A bill, quietly up for debate before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and backed by the Whitehouse, proposes to improve the performance of the Executive branch of the US Government by requiring that all Governmental agencies be given a 10 year shelf life at the end of which time they must be reinstated by a Presidentially appointed "Sunset Committee" or fade into the history books.
posted by Pollomacho (45 comments total)

 
I wish everything had a sunset clause.
posted by zeoslap at 6:32 AM on September 26, 2005


You know, this administration can't decide whether these departments are perfect for corporate cronyism and strengthening of their faith-based base, or whether to cut them. Make up your mind already, so I'll know what to get upset about.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:38 AM on September 26, 2005


Great. Come 2025, we'll have nothing but the Defense Department and the Office Of Faith-Based Initiatives.

This sounds like a great way to kill off the popular programs Republicans haven't had the support to attack, eh? Just wait them out and let them die.
posted by verb at 6:39 AM on September 26, 2005


I'm all for less bureaucracy, but this seems destined to have unforeseen consequences if it is ever put into practice. On the other hand, I wonder how the 7 member committee would rate the performance of the TSA?
posted by pepcorn at 6:41 AM on September 26, 2005


The depths of depravity to which the Republicans have sunk never cease to amaze me.
posted by caddis at 6:41 AM on September 26, 2005


This seems like just what we need to get this country back on track. /incredulity
posted by OmieWise at 6:44 AM on September 26, 2005


Maybe if they did this to all federal laws, too, I might be more for it.
posted by Balisong at 8:04 AM on September 26, 2005


States commonly have sunset provisions. They've done, to a first approximation, diddly-squat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:06 AM on September 26, 2005


Oh, good. We now get to argue every 10 years about whether or not we need an entire agency devoted to education, old people, and protecting the environment.
posted by bshort at 8:12 AM on September 26, 2005


Yeah, I can't see what this will do other than cause agencies to put on a big show the year it it up for renewal, in an attempt to make themselves indispensible/justified.

More people will care about getting in good with this Council of Seven than doing a good job.

If it makes for accountability, I'd be for it, but I think it will just result in a traveling Govt. Agency circus.
posted by Balisong at 8:14 AM on September 26, 2005


Now we just need to extend this bill to the presidency itself, before 2008 rolls around.
posted by Rothko at 8:18 AM on September 26, 2005


Is anyone not yet convinced that this administration is only here to take everything they can get from 2001-2009 and leave us with the remains? This is not a Democrat or Republican administration, it's just a cancer.
posted by wakko at 8:18 AM on September 26, 2005


I'd say give them a 12-year shelf life with the anniversaries falling mid-term for the president.
posted by mischief at 8:30 AM on September 26, 2005


This seems a perfect way to adapt the "drown it in a bathtub" method of government reform that Republicans are famous for touting.

Increase spending while cutting taxes, then sit it up so 10 years from now every single agency needs to be 'reviewed.'

In 10 years time go on the vigorous attack against every single agency they don't like. Argue that they're all inefficient burdens.. and can't be supported, what with our enormous deficit.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:31 AM on September 26, 2005


While I agree with concerns about how this would effect certain agencies in politically dangerous territory (the EPA being the best example), we have too damn many government agencies. Also, simply having a government agency devoted to an issue isn't exactly a guarantee that the cause is helped. Are we safer because of DHS? And sorry Bshort, public education in this country has gone straight down the crapper in a way almost directly inverse to the creation of the DOE by Carter and its subsequent expansion. Not that the DOE is solely responsible for the problems, but I think it clearly isn't helping.

Not to mention the corruption involved, and the issues with the incredibly lazy, entitled and incompetent federal workforce who are next to impossible to fire. They're not all bad sure (some are downright heroic given the bureaucracy they cope with), but I deal with them on a regular basis and it's a very real problem.
posted by Heminator at 8:34 AM on September 26, 2005


Just change it from an executive reapproval to a house reapproval, and I'd be happy to see it.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:42 AM on September 26, 2005


You know, this is another thing that I agree with in principle, but can't trust the people curently in power to do it.
Everything the current administration touches, turns to shit.

Bush is the Anti-Midas.
posted by Balisong at 8:46 AM on September 26, 2005


"Everything the current administration touches, turns to shit."

All the more reason to flush it periodically.
posted by mischief at 8:47 AM on September 26, 2005



Not to mention the corruption involved...


Do you have an example of a corruption-free government?

and the issues with the incredibly lazy, entitled and incompetent federal workforce who are next to impossible to fire. They're not all bad sure (some are downright heroic given the bureaucracy they cope with), but I deal with them on a regular basis and it's a very real problem.

You just called two million people "lazy, entitled and incompetent". That's funny.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:50 AM on September 26, 2005


Shouldn't there be an agency to oversee the creation of other agencies? Maybe one day we could privatize that too?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:51 AM on September 26, 2005


Most likely, as history tells us, a Democrat will win the next presidential election. And how the recent presidents have done, will run an eight year term, then which a Republican will win office. 10 years from the soonest the bill passes will allow the new Repulican president authority in dismissing any government program.

On the other hand, the bill states that each organization be reviewed "at least once every 10 years". Meaning the executive branch can keep all the organizations under a microscope.

No president is gonna try to kill FEMA or NASA or something else not living up to promises though, they are either still needed or the potential is too great. Of course, even though we need the benefits of Social Security...
posted by cleverusername at 8:52 AM on September 26, 2005


I'm sure all agencies could go through a little performance evaluation (with consequences) now and then. I only skimmed the bill, but would the response here be as negative if this had be proposed under Clinton?
posted by tomplus2 at 8:56 AM on September 26, 2005


Stupid idea. What the government needs is less oversight by politicians. Democracy is overrated, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 9:02 AM on September 26, 2005


I disagree with ROU: sunset clauses aren't bad things at all.

By forcing Congress to revisit issues, and by erasing both the statute and the subsequent caselaw and regulations if the statute ends up not being renewed (or is renewed with changed terms), sunset clauses are marvelous checks against sloppy or intemperate legislation and against judges and bureaucrats effectively remaking the law as they see fit in the course of interpreting it.

Think of how little consideration went into the USA PATRIOT Act when it was passed in 2001. The looming sunset of many of its important provisions gives Congress the chance carefully to debate it and make changes as needed, and face the voters next November with true accountability for their decisions.

Last year's sunset of the AWB forced Kerry and Bush both to step away from platitudes and actually tell the American people where they came down on the issue of weapons rights. Don't you think both of them would have loved to avoid that moment of truth and stick with their platitudes?
posted by MattD at 9:17 AM on September 26, 2005


...the incredibly lazy, entitled and incompetent federal workforce

I work for a private biotechnology company. And before this I worked at a private hospital. And you know what? People tend to be lazy, entitled, and incompetent sometimes - for instance, I'm at work right now, and I'm on metafilter (and you?). Why should we hold these governmental employees to any higher standard then we hold ourselves?
posted by iamck at 9:27 AM on September 26, 2005


"This seems a perfect way to adapt the "drown it in a bathtub" method of government reform that Republicans are famous for touting."

I’d disagree with that. And many of the statements here in general. Not that I take exception with anything here directly, but from an oblique sort of angle on the interpretation of the issue:

On the one hand, this will create more government oversight which means, in essence - more government. What’s worse - more unelected bureaucrats. (By definition. The agencies will have to create departments dedicated to justifying their existance, The Congress, the White House, et. al. will have to create departments to ‘consider’ & blah blah blah)
On the other hand, if this doesn’t create a morass of new redundancies, as it appears it is designed to avoid, it will streamline our government by concentrating power in fewer hands.
I’m sure we all want that. Yeah. A new king. Huzzah!
I used to think as a conservative, I was in favor of smaller government with more local control. I used to think Republicans were too. I used to think the Dems wanted to (wastefully) legislate everything and try to protect me from...well, everything else. I respected liberalism on many points but saw it as a less coherant tool for governance (a whole different discussion).
It seems, however, obfuscation of the issues and dividing and beguiling the populace is the general rule and in fact there is no philosophical basis or principle of governance, not even an aim to power, beyond this.
Orwell was wrong. We are not going to be ruled by men who seek to stomp on our faces, but by those who blow smoke up our asses. They don’t appear to be wanting power, they simply want to keep the population from being able to help itself.
Consider - when an agency is gone there will still be a demand, perhaps lingering, perhaps not, for the services it provided.
That demand will be met how?
(The answer’s obvious really)

The designs here are not obvious and brutal. Quite the opposite. Much the way, at first, Vegas on the face of it appears to be a rather loose town. If you think though the appearance isn’t calculated to within a hundred thousanth of a percentage point (in this case to separate you from your money while giving the appearance that you could win) I’d love to play some high stakes poker with ya.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:35 AM on September 26, 2005


Holy fuck.
posted by washburn at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2005


Sunset clauses aren't bad things at all.

I would second MattD - sunset clauses are a good idea, at least in theory. If they work properly, they mean that highly contentious pieces of legislation, or policies on issues that are often subject to change, are forcibly revisited rather than clogging up the statute book. The recent marathon debate in the UK Parliament on terrorism and the Government's powers to detain suspects was partly due to sunset clauses running out in mid-March and a need to renew the legislation. In that example I would far rather Parliament had revisited the issue of detention without trial, as they did, than had to wait for the Opposition to force an amendment to some future Bill.

But they are also only as good as the administration running them... run properly, with much advance consideration and a decent (independent?) review of whether the legislation/policy has fulfilled its objectives and continues to be necessary, they're all to the good. Run badly or forgotten about until the last minute - as seems to have happened with the UK terrorism example (all-night debates a few days before the cut-off date) - you simply get further rushed legislation so that the gap gets filled. So you have the potential for ever decreasing standards in law-making if you're not careful.
posted by greycap at 9:45 AM on September 26, 2005


So let me get this straight: agencies created by the legislative bodies en masse can be nixed by excecutive fiat 10 years down the road?

Fuck off. The American system of government involves a limited executive leader for a reason.
posted by teece at 9:52 AM on September 26, 2005


I only skimmed the bill, but would the response here be as negative if this had be proposed under Clinton?

Yes.

Also: what teece said.
posted by bshort at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2005


I object to this for reasons which have nothing to do with who's running the show, or with whether I trust them to do it right.

How many of you who work in corporate environments have been through a re-org? How many of those went smoothly?

The reason FEMA's so fucked up right now -- well, okay, one of many reasons -- is that they just went through a major re-organization, and the kinks haven't worked out. Nobody knows what they're doing, what they're responsible for, who reports to who; every mid-level manager is scrambling to secure his position instead of doing his job -- in short, it's the same situation that happens whenever any large bureaucracy makes major changes in its structure.

What this bill would do is put the government in a permanent state of re-org. All politics aside, just from a pure organizational stand point this would be a disaster.
posted by ook at 10:02 AM on September 26, 2005


Sunset clauses are fine in theory, but you have to be selective. Why not have a sunset clause on Constitutional Amendments? Or on our system of government as a whole. Let's "review" whether we want to have elections anymore. Some things need to be set in stone.

If you want to do this honestly, require a vote on the future of every department every ten years and get the politicians on record for how they voted. They'll still have to pander to their respective bases, but at least it'll require debate about the relevance of the various departments.

And we won't just wake up one morning to find that we have no FDA because the Pharmaceutical companies paid enough to make the right people forget to renew it's lease.
posted by JWright at 10:05 AM on September 26, 2005


Why should we hold these governmental employees to any higher standard then we hold ourselves?

Because we are jealous of their job security and retirement plan.

Sunset commissions, should they get pushed through, should be able to pry into the goings-on of the Pentagon. Then, you can have your commission.
posted by Busithoth at 10:07 AM on September 26, 2005


Just change it from an executive reapproval to a house reapproval, and I'd be happy to see it.

I second the motion. Sunset clauses might be a great idea for keeping government in shape, as long as the people in charge of an agency's life and death are elected and held accountable for their decisions, and discussions are kept on public record. Moving the debate behind closed doors to an executive-appointed committee is just a power grab. Let's hope that the Senate committee sees this for what it is -- even the Republican senators should be reluctant to hand over their power that easily.

On preview: What JWright said.
posted by purple_frogs at 10:14 AM on September 26, 2005


sunset clauses are marvelous checks against sloppy or intemperate legislation and against judges and bureaucrats effectively remaking the law as they see fit in the course of interpreting it

In theory, maybe. In theory, if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a trolley.

But in real life, sunset provisions do next to nothing. Occasionally, a small agency is deleted or combined with another small agency. Otherwise the near-universal experience from the real world is that agencies are simply rubber-stamped when they come up for renewal, with real decisions happening off the sunset calendar.

On a happier note, this also means that they're basically harmless. This proposal is weird in routing approval through a commission instead of back through Congress, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:22 AM on September 26, 2005


This proposal is weird in routing approval through a commission instead of back through Congress, though.

Weird is being very generous, ROU_Xenophobe. It's an unacceptable power grab by the executive. Hopefully it would turn out to be harmless, but we should not take that chance. Power has consolidated too heavily in the executive as it is.

This adds nothing in the way of real oversight. It puts immense (potential) power in a gang of seven appointed cronies. A pretty stupid idea, even if the chances of it being used badly are small. And if it was ever used at all, it would probably be badly. If there was a good use for it, you wouldn't need it: you'd just have the vote on the requisite legislation in congress.
posted by teece at 10:56 AM on September 26, 2005


"Thank God we don't get all the government we pay for." -- Will Rogers
posted by alumshubby at 11:00 AM on September 26, 2005


This might not be such a bad thing, as long as the underlying legislation stays in place.

In the UK most Goverment agencies, including EPA equivalent the Environment Agency, have quinquennial reviews, which can recommend the full range of changes to the agency, including merger or abolition. Of course, the agency change doesn't affect the underlying legislation.

If seeing an example would really excite you, the quinquennial review of the Joint Nature Conservancy Committee (pdf, 600k, 193pp) is available here.
posted by athenian at 12:40 PM on September 26, 2005


I Love Tacos writes "Do you have an example of a corruption-free government?"

Absolute Monarchies?

MattD writes "Last year's sunset of the AWB forced Kerry and Bush both to step away from platitudes and actually tell the American people where they came down on the issue of weapons rights."

This is why I've often thought that all criminal law at the least should have sunsets with the harsher the penalty the more often the review. Summary offences could have sunsets as long as 20-25 years but all indictable offenses would be a maximum of 10 years and anything that would put you away for life would be every 5 years.

But the review should not be by the executive branch.
posted by Mitheral at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2005


Does this bill have a sunset provision?
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:05 PM on September 26, 2005


alumshubby writes "'Thank God we don't get all the government we pay for.'"

That is so true I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.
posted by Mitheral at 1:30 PM on September 26, 2005


"Thank God we don't get all the government we pay for."

Oh, it might not be in dollars, but we pay for it all right.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2005


That could actually work if the President had good judgment. Oh never mind.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 12:11 AM on September 27, 2005


The problem with sunsets is that they favor special interest groups with lots of money. Every sunset period, they can re-fight any battle they may have lost previously, forever.

Something like this happened to the FCC, where ownership rules got sunsetted and suddenly the big station owners could use their influence to get their way.
posted by sandking at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2005


delmoi, Democracy is not supposed to get the optimal results, it is intended to make revolution bloodless. I favor making democracy smooth-ish, eliminating any vestiges of world government, and letting nations compete.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:10 PM on September 27, 2005


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